Last week, CFU published the best No. 1 overall picks in NFL draft history. This time around, CFU examines the worst picks NFL teams have made with the top overall selection. Bad draft-day decisions are as old as the draft itself. Even the very first pick of the draft didn't pan out.
The modern NFL draft began in 1936, when the Chicago Bears made University of Chicago running back Jay Berwanger the first-ever pick. It didn’t work out as Berwanger decided not the play professional football - a move not uncommon in those days among college stars. Berwanger was the first “bust” of the NFL draft and later regretted not accepting the Bears’ salary offer of $13,500 per year. He worked at a rubber company and coached part-time at his college alma mater after railing to make the U.S. Olympic team in the decathlon.
1938. Corbett Davis, FB, Indiana
Davis scored just four touchdowns over four seasons with the Cleveland Rams. In his brief NFL career that ended with his enlistment into the Army for World War II, where he was wounded in action, Davis mustered just 382 rushing yards and 133 yards receiving. His best season was his rookie season when he started five games and ran for 202 yards with three touchdowns.
1940. George Cafego, QB, Tennessee
Another pick by the Chicago Cardinals, Cafego spent what should have been his rookie NFL season playing baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His career was then interrupted by two years of service during World War II before he returned to the Dodgers in 1943 and then played for the NFL’s Washington Redskins later that year. Cafego lived up to his college nickname, “Bad News,” by never playing for the Cardinals, finishing his football career with the Boston Yanks. He threw for 966 yards with five touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
1941. Tom Harmon, HB, Michigan
The 1940 Heisman Trophy winner was the first pick by the Chicago Bears, but opted to play for the New York Americans of the upstart American Football League. He dabbled in movies before serving during World War II, where he was awarded both a Purple Heart and Silver Star. He played just two NFL seasons, in 1946 and 1947, with the Los Angeles Rams and finished his career with 542 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns.
1947. Bob Fenimore, HB, Oklahoma State
Fenimore’s career with the Chicago Bears lasted just one season. The Bears made him the top pick even though Fenimore’s final season in Stillwater was an injury-plagued one. He played in 10 games for the Bears, amassing 189 yards on the ground with a score and 219 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He was a two-way player who also had a pair of interceptions in his lone NFL season.
1948. Harry Gilmer, QB, DB, Alabama
Gilmer had a lengthy NFL career - nine years - but started just 13 games. The first pick by the Washington Redskins in 1948, Gilmer led the league in interceptions with 15 a year later. He threw 12 in 1950 and finished his career with 23 touchdowns and 45 picks. He did go to the Pro Bowl in 1950 and again in 1952, as a running back, and did lead the league with five interceptions as a defensive back in 1951. But his 923 career rushing yards and 3,786 career passing yards are very underwhelming for a top overall pick.
1954. Bobby Garrett, QB, Stanford
The Green Bay Packers selected Bart Starr in the 17th round of the 1956 NFL draft. Two years earlier, their trade for Stanford’s Garrett didn’t work out so well. Originally selected by the Cleveland Browns, Garrett’s NFL career lasted just one season. In nine starts, Garrett attempted a total of 30 passes. He completed half of them for 163 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He managed just one rushing attempt, and lost three yards. He had a terrible stutter that made it difficult to call plays and the Packers finished the season with a 4-8 record.
1959. Randy Duncan, QB, Iowa
Duncan made a decision to not play for the Green Bay Packers, pre-Vince Lombardi. Bart Starr was not yet a star and the Packers were a franchise in disarray. Duncan never played in the NFL, instead opting for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. He lasted just two seasons in Canada before signing with the Dallas Texans of the American Football League. The Texans, who would later become the Kansas City Chiefs, traded for Len Dawson and Duncan spent just one season in Dallas before retiring after just three professional seasons.
1992. Steve Emtman, DT, Washington
Emtman was supposed to be the next great superstar when the Indianapolis Colts made him the top choice in 1992. A unanimous All-American in 1991, Emtman racked up nearly every college award for which he was eligible. But things were different in the NFL. He finished his six-year career with just eight sacks and 134 tackles while spending a lot of time on injured reserve. He played just nine games as a rookie before blowing out his left knee. The next year, he injured his right knee and suffered a neck injury in his third, and final, season with the Colts. In his six NFL seasons, he appeared in 50 games for the Colts, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins, with only 19 starts.
1995. Ki-Jana Carter, RB, Penn State
Carter’s playing career lasted until 2004, when his disappointing career ended following two seasons with the New Orleans Saints. But for the Cincinnati Bengals team that selected him with the first pick in 1995, his name is synonymous with disappointment. He received what was, at the time, the largest rookie contract ever and then tore his ACL on his third carry of the preseason. He never fully recovered and his 464 yards in 1997 was a career high.
1999. Tim Couch, QB, Kentucky
Couch was supposed to be the savior for the Cleveland Browns franchise. After the original Browns franchise moved to Baltimore, the revived Browns took Couch with their first-ever pick following a wonderful college career. Although he did help lead the Browns to the playoffs in 2002, his five years in Cleveland were plagued by injuries and inconsistent play. He made 59 starts with 64 touchdown passes and 67 interceptions.
2007. JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU
The Oakland Raiders gambled on a raw quarterback with incredible strength and upside, but whose on-field play was inconsistent. The Raiders lost mightily and have still not fully recovered from Russell’s selection. It was never good from the start. Russell help out until September and that time he missed was invaluable. He didn’t start until the final game of the season and was then named the starter in 2008. In 25 starts over three NFL seasons, receiving a guaranteed $31 million, Russell threw 18 to 23 interceptions and was sacked 70 times. In those three seasons, the Raiders won a combined 14 games.